We have two items addressing the same issue: tragic fates and bearing fruit. Who could forget the warning from Isaiah, about God’s vineyard bearing no fruit? The Covenant was supposed to make the nation so winsome that other peoples would want to hear the Word of God.
While Jesus was teaching a group of people, someone brought fresh news of events elsewhere. It was likely some Pharisees and this was yet another test of Jesus’ orthodoxy. Noteworthy was the story of Pilate’s soldiers slaughtering a bunch of Galileans, mixing their blood with that of some ritual sacrifices. We have no external historical record of this, so we can’t add any context, such as where this took place, when or any part of why. The point here is that it was a tragic and unexpected death for the Galileans involved. The question on their minds was implied by the context of Jesus teaching on repentance.
Jesus asked whether these Pharisees imagined somehow that these Galileans must have angered God more than any other Galileans. It’s a subtle dig at the self-righteous viewpoint of your average Pharisee. It’s the same nonsense that Job faced: His friends insisted that your physical fate was directly tied to God’s favor. If things are okay for you, it must be because of God’s favor; human suffering was proof of God’s disfavor.
To this Jesus replied that they should not be fooled by the immediacy of the timing. God is not a slot machine paying off with good or bad right after you pulled the lever. The whole nation deserved to die just like those Galileans. It was time they repented and made ready to face their Messiah.
Jesus then compared that story with a similar event in Jerusalem, when eighteen folks by the Pool of Siloam died because a tower there fell on them. Were they somehow worse sinners than anyone else in the city? By no means; everyone in the nation deserved such a fate. The Pharisees had arrogantly rejected the message of John the Baptist, the same message Jesus proclaimed since His baptism at the hands of John. They were convinced they had God over a barrel.
So Jesus told another parable with not-so-subtle digs at the Pharisees as self-proclaimed religious leaders of the Jewish nation. Since when would a vineyard owner waste precious ground space with a fig tree? Only as a frivolous hobby. And in the past three years when God was expecting fruit, it bore nothing. Wild fig trees did better than that. Of course, the three years was meaningful if we can agree that Jesus’ ministry lasted that long. All this invested effort and the fig tree of Judea was not responding to the favorable treatment.
Should God not deal with it now and get it over with? No, says the vine-dresser Jesus. Give us just a little more time. Let’s fertilize it with more miracles and water it with more teachings and if in this last year it does not respond, then cut it down. There will be no excuse at that point.
The Pharisees would have caught onto this immediately. It wasn’t so much Judea that was doomed, but the Pharisees who intruded in the nation with their promises of fruitfulness that competed with the rest of God’s vineyard. But they produced nothing that God found useful. Their time was short. They were hardly any better than the slaughtered Galileans or those unfortunates at the Pool of Siloam. Jesus was prophesying of their doom.